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Former guards allege 2nd mass beating - Suit says 5 inmates were shackled first

Chicago Tribune, Febr 28, 2003

17 months after a team of 40 guards at Cook County Jail allegedly terrorized and beat inmates, another group of guards punched and kicked 5 other inmates while they were shackled, according to 2 former jail guards.

The 2 former guards allege they received death threats from other guards and were harassed into resigning this month after they refused to cover up the July 29, 2000, beatings.

Breaking what he said was a code of silence and testifying under oath as part of a lawsuit brought by the 5 inmates, former guard Roger Fairley, 37, said the shackled inmates were dragged and shoved into a windowless room where they were beaten after a disturbance in which several guards were injured.

"I saw them hitting them with elbows, stomping on their faces and heads, kicking them in the face," Fairley testified. "I yelled at them to stop because what I saw was too violent. But they didn't."

Jail officials say the disturbance in the special incarceration unit, where the most dangerous inmates are held, was triggered by one of the inmates, former El Rukn gang leader Nathson Fields, who sought to provoke a fight with guards in hope of filing a brutality lawsuit.

The inmates contend that during a shakedown for contraband and weapons, guards began tossing all of their belongings out of their cells, then forced them to run a gantlet of officers who punched them. That touched off a brawl that ended with the handcuffing and shackling of the 5 inmates and then the alleged beating.

The Cook County sheriff's Internal Affairs Division ruled that the claims of the inmates and the guards were "inconclusive," a middle finding between sustained and exonerated. Other guards who have been deposed so far have denied the beating.

On Thursday, the Tribune disclosed an internal sheriff's report on February 1999 allegations by 49 inmates who said that they were kicked, stomped and beaten and that jail officials sought to cover it up by filing false reports.

10 jail officers, including a superintendent, a lieutenant and the head of the jail's elite Special Operations Response Team (SORT), violated jail rules, according to the report. Sheriff's officials said the office's inspector general examined the report and sustained violations against 5 officers and 1 former officer, but found no evidence of excessive force. Both alleged beatings occurred when Ernesto Velasco was the jail director. On Thursday, Gov. Rod Blagojevich put on hold Velasco's appointment to head the state Department of Corrections.

Abuse illegal and costly

Charles Fasano, director of the Prisons and Jails Program for the John Howard Association, a prison watchdog group, said that besides being illegal and immoral, excessive force against inmates is "a very dangerous practice. It's bad management."

Fasano said brutality costs the county millions in legal settlements and
raises the volatility level in the jail.

"There is a fine line that everybody has to walk," he said. "It doesn't mean you cater to the inmate. But you don't start abusing them.

"Even if the guy has struck an officer, it does not justify hitting him later. You can defend yourself, but once you have restrained him, then you cease using offensive moves against him. And they're trained how to do that.

"If a guy is handcuffed and shackled, staff ought to be able to restrain them. If he's writhing around and not hurting anyone, you get the necessary number of staff and you pin him down."

Fasano said determining the truth behind such allegations is difficult because "these things are very complicated. The inmates say one thing. The staff says another. And the truth might be somewhere in the middle."

The 5 inmates--Fields, Andre Crawford, Luis Sanchez, James Scott and Edward Mitchell--were all awaiting trial for murder. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Crawford, who has been charged in a series of rapes and slayings in the Englewood neighborhood. Scott is accused of killing Chicago Police Officer John Knight in 1999.

When the disturbance erupted, Fairley said, he was summoned from another tier in the cellblock to help.

"I heard screaming. I heard people hitting each other, flesh upon flesh," he testified. "I saw blood splattered all over the doors, all over the walls, all over the piles of garbage and the floor of the corridor. A lot of blood."

When the fight ended, the 5 inmates were handcuffed and 4 were shackled at the ankles and put in an area known as the "pump room." Fairley said he went to the doorway. The four guards, he said, were "jumping in the air, coming down on their heads with their knees. I saw them kicking them in every part of their bodies with all their might."

Fairley testified in the deposition that one guard kicked Mitchell so hard that Mitchell's body "completely lifted off the floor and he flew into the wall." Mitchell was not shackled at the ankles because one leg was in a cast.

The beating was still going on when a nurse arrived, Fairley said.

"She put her hand over her mouth because she couldn't believe what she was seeing, so she starting yelling at the officers to stop . . . but they didn't," he said.

`They stomped us'

In a telephone interview, Fields said the beatings were sparked by a complaint he wrote to the Cook County state's attorney's office and the FBI about the alleged beating of another inmate.

Fields said that after he complained, 2 jail officers told him, "Anybody who don't like what happened, we'll send you to the hospital." Fields said the guards "beat us like we were savage animals. They beat us down to the ground. They stomped us, kicked us in the face."

During the alleged beating in the pump room, Fairley recalled, a lieutenant arrived and said, "They want to hurt my officers? . . . They deserve to die."

Richard Gackowski, 37, another guard and a friend of Fairley's, testified in a separate deposition that the lieutenant later told him that before the inmates were cuffed, he had grabbed Mitchell, the inmate who had a cast on his leg.

"He stated to me that he grabbed inmate Mitchell's good leg and did everything he could--twisted it, jumped on it, hit it--did whatever he could to get that leg to snap," Gackowski said. "And it just wouldn't snap and he laughed about it. He thought it was funny."

Fairley said the beating stopped only when a guard in the hallway yelled that a ranking supervisor was en route to the scene. The inmates were then taken to hospitals for treatment and returned to the jail. Several guards also were treated for injuries, Fairley said.

One guard, Adrian Molina, who later was promoted to the SORT unit, testified in a deposition that Fields began fighting with him. "The first 2 punches I didn't strike him back," Molina testified, "but once he started to punch me, I started to defend myself, so I started swinging back at him."

Guards allegedly pressured

Fairley said that in the months after the beating, he was the target of harassment from co-workers because he had yelled for it to stop. Guards called him "social worker, inmate lover and [that] ever since I got married, I can't fight anymore," Fairley testified. "And [that] I wouldn't be there to watch anybody's back if something happened."

He said he considered reporting the beating but did not "because it's a complicated situation when you work in a jail. If you report other officers doing wrong, you can end up getting hurt by those officers."

Fairley testified that complaints about harassment to Internal Affairs were pointless because "the complaint will come right back to the department for an investigation and then everybody knows you made the complaint."

When guards assigned to the division began to get notices of deposition, Fairley said, other guards began pressuring him to cooperate in the cover-up.

Gackowski said he became the target of harassment because he is a friend of Fairley's. Guards made cooing noises over their hand-held radios "because he was a stool pigeon," Gackowski testified.

The final straw for both men occurred recently when a guard approached Gackowski and said Fairley was "a weak link in the chain" and weak links had to be "buried," Gackowski said.

On Feb. 3 both men requested transfers out of the jail facility to other work for the sheriff's office. When the requests were refused, they resigned the following day. Fairley had been a guard for eight years, Gackowski 7.

Both said neither had been cited for any infraction more serious than being a few minutes late for work.

"I wouldn't be part of the boys' club, and neither would Roger," Gackowski said. "We wouldn't go along with the status quo--brutality."

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